CONEY ISLAND (PIX11) – Until Wednesday morning, the NYPD had not had an officer killed in the line of duty since December 2011. But at 6:50 A.M. Wednesday, according to the police department, Officer Dennis Guerra passed away, as a result of smoke inhalation injuries. Immediately, tributes in his memory began, and they were all heavy with emotion. The same cannot be said about appearances of the teen accused of Guerra’s death. He now faces the prospect of much more serious charges.
The officially-released photo of Guerra from the NYPD shows a serious, no-nonsense beat cop, but images of him on duty posted by his fellow officers and friends show a smiling, friendly, approachable man in a black uniform. The married father of four was himself the son of a career NYPD officer. It’s a fact that was not lost on the police union president, who had spent time with Guerra’s family at the hospital.
“A father who proudly wore this uniform,” said PBA president Pat Lynch, choking up, “now has to stand in front of one of our religious institutions to shoulder his son. That’s what happened here.”
Lynch is himself the father of two NYPD officers — one already on the job, the other in the police academy. “A retired police officer father,” said Lynch, “has been at the [bedside] scene before. He never thought he’d be at the scene with his own son.”
On Sunday, Guerra and his partner for the day, Officer Rosa Rodriguez, took an elevator to the 13th floor of a Coney Island housing project at 2007 Surf Avenue. They were responding to a call of a mattress burning in the hallway. When the elevator doors opened, both officers were overcome with toxic smoke.
The 16 year-old charged with lighting the mattress, Marcell Dockery, smiled for the cameras as detectives walked him out of the local police precinct earlier this week. He’d admitted to investigators, PIX11 News has learned, that he’d set the fire because he was bored. His alleged boredom in his Coney Island building led to a chilling scene at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx Wednesday morning.
About a hundred police officers stood at attention in silence as Ofcr. Guerra’s body, wrapped in an NYPD flag, was wheeled out of the hospital and into a waiting ambulance, with a multi-vehicle police escort.
Less than four hours later, hundreds more officers, in full ceremonial dress, stood at attention in front of One Police Plaza, NYPD headquarters, where the department, city and U.S. flags were formally lowered to half staff in Guerra’s honor. A lone bugler played “Taps.”
Family members of Guerra’s patrol partner, Rosa Rodriguez, attended the tribute. Rodriguez is in critical condition, in a medically induced coma, but her prognosis is positive.
Meanwhile, Dockery, the teen accused of setting the mattress on fire, had faced arson and assault charges, but with the death of a police officer, the charges will certainly get more harsh.
“Murder, plain and simple,” said Lynch. The NYPD’s deputy commissioner for public information said that Murder in the Second Degree is more likely to be the charge, since Guerra’s death occurred in the commission of another crime.
Ultimately, prosecutors will decide Dockery’s charges, which are expected to be numerous. For now, though, the police department, as well as many New Yorkers, try to cope with the first loss of an officer in the line of duty in two and a half years.
“Officer Guerra was exemplary,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio to a stunned audience at the National Action Network convention, minutes after learning of the officer’s death. “He went to try to save people in need, and he has now lost his life.”
“I just want everyone to know,” the mayor went on, “that on behalf of all 8.4 million New Yorkers, our hearts go out to the Guerra family.”
The memorial service and funeral for Officer Guerra are still being arranged.